Wild Engineering: A Beautiful Beak

Posted Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 11:12 AM

"In 2008, Beauty became the first bald eagle recipient of a 3D-printed prosthetic beak."

Wild Engineering: A Beautiful Beak

PostedThursday, September 15, 2016 at 11:24 AM

Kate Gramling
Kate Gramling
Wild Engineering: A Beautiful Beak

In 2007, Janie Veltkamp returned from vacation with an injured bald eagle named Beauty. Veltkamp is a raptor biologist and director of a nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitates raptors and owls that need help.

Beauty had been shot by poachers in Alaska. The bullet had demolished her upper beak, which bald eagles use for everything from building nests to feeding to maintaining feathers for flight. Without a beak, Beauty could never survive on her own.

Veltkamp knew that replacing Beauty’s beak wouldn’t be easy. A new beak would have to fit perfectly – inside and out – and move properly to allow her to eat and drink. So Veltkamp assembled a team including mechanical engineer Nate Calvin, a veterinarian, two dentists, and several other volunteers. Together they would design, create, and attach the first 3D-printed prosthetic eagle beak.

Calvin designed Beauty’s new beak using CAD (computer-aided design) software and measurements from a female bald eagle skull and dental molds of what little remained of Beauty’s own beak. He then manufactured prototypes on a 3D printer. Veltkamp and Calvin had to go through several different fittings with Beauty before the design was finalized.

When the final (bald eagle yellow) beak was ready it was attached with dental glue. The procedure took 3 hours, since there were several small adjustments needed at the last minute.

Beauty put her new beak to the test immediately. When returned to her aviary, she leaned down into her water bath, scooped up a beak full of water, closed her beak and threw back her head to swallow - just like any other eagle. Since then, Beauty’s own beak has begun to very slowly regenerate, or grow back.

Cover for Beauty and the Beak, a children's picture bookBeauty still lives at the raptor center with other rehabilitating birds, but has appeared on television and in many educational programs. Her life's journey is also told in a children’s book entitled Beauty and the Beak: How science, technology and a 3D-printed beak rescued a bald eagle, to be published in 2017.

Visit the Birds of Prey Northwest website for more information about Beauty and other rescued raptors.

Photo by Glen Hush, US Fish and Wildlife Service. Available for download from the USFWS National Digital Library.

Filed Under Environment Medicine Bioengineering/Biomedical Environmental Mechanical